Trump’s Washington Hotel Accused of Unfairly Competing With Local Wine Bar

  • New hotel an alleged magnet for capital’s movers and shakers
  • Property lease terms bar president from reaping those benefits

Trump International Hotel Washington D.C. stands on March 21, 2016.

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Bloomberg

Serious gripe or sour grapes?

A Washington wine bar and restaurant sued Donald Trump and the company operating the capital’s Trump International Hotel, claiming they have an unfair advantage because foreign dignitaries, business leaders and organizations seeking to curry favor with the president are eating, drinking and booking events there.

That’s not only pulling business away from the Cork Wine Bar, about 1 1/2 miles (2.4 kilometers) away. It’s also violating the terms of the hotel’s lease with the U.S. General Services Administration, which prohibits elected officials from benefiting from the lease terms, the wine bar claimed in the lawsuit filed Thursday.

“Reading between the lines isn’t that tough here,” an unnamed Washington lobbyist was quoted as saying in the complaint filed in a Washington, D.C., court. Trump associates “are seeing who spends time and money there and who books large parties there and large blocks of rooms for delegations.”

“Someone is paying attention to the person who orders the $1,000 bottle of wine,” the lobbyist allegedly said.

Trump “doesn’t have conflicts” and conducts his business affairs “in accordance with the guidance” given to him, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said Thursday in response to a question about the lawsuit. The president “understands the role of small business in our economy and how many jobs they provide,” he said.

Four attorneys, including two who teach at the nearby George Washington University Law School, filed the complaint on behalf of the bar. It says Trump can remedy the problem by closing the hotel, selling it or resigning from office. The document was posted on a website called www.endtrumphotelunfaircompetition.com but hasn’t yet appeared on the D.C. Superior Court’s electronic docket.

Complainants

One of the professors, Steven Schooner, formerly worked at the U.S. Justice Department and was an administrator for procurement law and legislation at the Office of Management and Budget’s office of Federal Procurement Policy, according to the school’s website.

Cork Wine Bar owner Khalid Pitts is president of USAction, a political group calling for affordable health care, good paying jobs and “responsible budgeting,” according to its site.

The suit is the latest controversy over the 263-room hotel that opened last year within the city’s historic old post office after $212 million in renovations. In 2015, Trump sued the celebrity chefs Jose Andres and Geoffrey Zakarian after they canceled plans to open restaurants there and cited disparaging remarks he made about Mexicans. Those cases are set for a pretrial conference in May.

Rebecca Woods, the lawyer representing Trump in the chef litigation, didn’t immediately reply to voicemail and email messages seeking comment on the new hotel lawsuit.

In January, another group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, sued the president for allegedly violating a U.S. constitutional provision known as the Emoluments Clause, which bars the president from accepting payments and gifts from foreign governments.

CREW’s complaint, filed in Manhattan federal court, accuses Trump of breaching that ban by leasing office space to the state-owned Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, accepting foreign diplomats’ bookings at the Washington hotel, and receiving payments from foreign government-owned broadcasters for airing his television show “The Apprentice.” The case is pending.

The case is K&D LLC v. Trump Old Post Office LLC, District of Columbia Superior Court (Washington).

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